#RethinkDiscipline: Students of color with disabilities can’t learn if they’re not in school

Harold Jordan, senior policy advocate at ACLU-PA, offered comment on the harsh discipline of students of color with disabilities in public schools today before the United States Commission on Civil Rights. Here is his statement.

Harold Jordan of ACLU-PA with Catherine E. Lhamon, chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, at today’s briefing on school discipline in Washington, D.C.

Thank you for this opportunity to address the Commission on a matter of great importance to students and families in Pennsylvania, the harsh discipline of students of color with disabilities in our public schools.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania has reviewed discipline and law enforcement data, addressed relevant policy issues, and participated in discussions with school communities and education decision-makers. I’ve had the privilege of serving on a committee of Pennsylvania’s Developmental Disabilities Council, a state agency which has provided grants to programs that address the school-to-prison pipeline’s impact on students with disabilities.

Pennsylvania’s patterns of punishment of students of color with disabilities parallels national trends:

  • Black students with disabilities receive out of school suspensions at the highest rates of any group of students. Some 22 percent of Black students with disabilities were suspended at least once. In fact, the profile of the PA student who is most likely to be suspended is a Black male student with a disability. Black and Latino students with disabilities are more likely to be suspended multiple times than any other group.
  • Roughly a dozen districts suspend between 40 percent and 75 percent of Black students with disabilities.
  • Similar patterns of punishment are reflected in contact with law enforcement and arrest.
  • Overidentification, misidentification and under-identification of students of color remains a significant problem.
  • Also problematic is the failure of schools to conduct manifestation reviews and to provide appropriate individualized education supports.

The result is the excessive punishment of students of color, especially those who have disabilities.

Parents and guardians have great difficulty exercising their rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Rehabilitation Act. It is challenging for them to ensure that their children are treated fairly and receive constructive supports and services.

We ask the commission to:

1) Urge the U.S. Department of Education to implement the “Equity in IDEA” rule (significant disproportionality) fully and on schedule.

2) Urge local education agencies to establish protocols that address interactions between law enforcement and students with disabilities. These should:

  • Limit contact between police and students with disabilities. No elementary school student should be handed over to law enforcement.
  • Require any law enforcement working in schools to get extensive training on how to de-escalate conflicts and how to work with youth, and youth with disabilities.
  • Protect the privacy rights of students with disabilities.
  • Require training for school staff on how to better work with students of color with disabilities and de-escalate conflicts, instead of turning to law enforcement to force compliance.

3) Urge state and local education agencies to do more rigorous monitoring of the use restraint and seclusion practices, and to make that information available to the public.

Who is holding school districts and police departments accountable?

By Harold Jordan, Senior Policy Advocate, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Surveillance video showed an interaction between a Woodland Hills High School student and school resource officer Steve Shaulis. Photo via WESA.

Controversy continues to swirl over a series of violent incidents that have occurred in the Woodland Hills School District, just outside Pittsburgh. These incidents involve allegations of violence directed against students by the school’s principal and by school-based law enforcement officials. Students have been injured. In one recent case, one of these law enforcement officials allegedly punched a student in the face and nearly knocked the student’s tooth out. An incident last year led to disciplinary action against the principal, but the principal remains at the school and was even hired as the school’s varsity football coach last month.

These incidents and the responses of administrators and the justice system so far raise fundamental questions about the role of police in our schools. They provide a textbook example of what is wrong with how many districts use police: lack of accountability for the actions of police; inappropriate use of force; failure to respect (and protect) the rights of students; and proposed solutions that may make matters worse.

Woodland Hills’ school-based law enforcement officials are known as “school resource officers” or SROs. These are sworn police officers on loan from a neighboring law enforcement agency as part of a contract between the district and the police department. But who is in control when SROs patrol the hallways? What do the school’s administrators do to protect students from harmful contact with local police? What responsibility does the school administration have when things go wrong between police and students, especially when there is unnecessary physical harm?

Often when controversies arise, police say, Don’t blame us. We’re here because the school asked us to be here. Educators say, We cannot control what police do in our school — that’s a law enforcement matter.

Who is holding districts and police departments accountable? In Woodland Hills, the officer has not been held accountable nor has the Allegheny County District Attorney, Stephen A. Zappala, prosecuted the assault. Last week community members held a protest. “We have some grave concerns about the way justice is carried out, which is why we are standing here today,” said the Rev. Richard Wingfield, pastor of Unity Baptist Church in Braddock, Pennsylvania.

This is a nationwide problem. The degree of collaboration between police and school systems has increased in the past two decades, with more districts placing police in schools on a full-time basis rather than calling them in during genuine emergencies where there is a threat to the well-being of the school community.

The experience of other districts using SROs has been that these officers sometimes engage in searches and interrogations an outside law enforcement officer would not be permitted to conduct without a warrant signed by a judge. Many districts are unsure about when these officers may have access to student records. And districts typically fail to demand that officers not carry or use potentially harmful weapons when dealing with ordinary student conflicts — including the Taser used on a student in a recent incident.

A “solution” being considered by the district is to equip SROs with body cameras. Such a measure would provide no real protections to students but would increase the surveillance of students by police. That would likely lead to more students being criminalized. In the words of one of my ACLU colleagues, “Body cameras present a real threat to students’ privacy and contribute to the creation of an environment in schools of pervasive surveillance…More likely than not, body camera footage is just going to be whipped out left and right for the enforcement of petty rules and disciplinary disturbances.”

Moreover, these arrangements between police and school districts undermine other discipline reform efforts of the district aimed at reducing out-of-school suspensions. Woodland Hills has long had one of the highest suspension rates in the state, especially for black students and black students with disabilities. In recent years, Woodland Hills has undertaken some efforts to reduce suspensions and improve school climate, with the support of AASA — The School Superintendents Association and the Children’s Defense Fund. And like me, district leaders participated in the Obama White House’s “Rethink Discipline” Summit in July of 2015.

But placing police in schools under these arrangements undermines those reform efforts. It has created Woodland Hills’ own version of “whack-a-mole”; police contact increases while the district claims to reform suspension policies.

The Woodland Hills School District has a choice. SRO arrangements are not mandated by law but are based on a contract between local law enforcement and the district. It can refuse to contract with local police, instead committing resources to student support services, or it can place stiff restrictions on police activities and the weapons they are permitted to carry in schools.

In Woodland Hills, the school district and police have become an unholy and unaccountable alliance. The district’s responsibility should be first and foremost to care for the well-being of students.

Read more about schools and the justice system at EndZeroTolerance.org.

IN OTHER NEWS

(Criminal justice news that could use a second look.)

Criminal defense lawyer Larry Krasner is the Democratic nominee for Philadelphia district attorney. Photo from Slate.

  • Slate: “Progressives believe Larry Krasner can help fix mass incarceration and hold police accountable. That may be too optimistic.”

“If Krasner wins in November as expected, his next challenge will be tougher than the race itself. Many of the city’s cops and prosecutors despise him, which will make it harder for Krasner to live up to his supporters’ exceedingly high expectations. Ultimately, it’s judges who decide whether to set cash bail, even if it isn’t sought by prosecutors. If Krasner’s deep-pocketed backers had spread a bit of their money down ballot, maybe he would have had a little bit more help from the bench.”

  • ACLU-PA: “Racial Analysis Suggests Philly Police Still Stop Pedestrians Based on Race”

“‘We recognize that the city, under the leadership of Mayor Kenney and Commissioner Ross, has shown improvement, as stops have decreased and legal justification for those stops has increased,’ said Mary Catherine Roper, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. ‘But improvement is not the goal. The goal is to treat people fairly and to respect people’s constitutional rights. This newest report suggests that some people in Philadelphia are still facing unfair treatment because of their race.’” More from ACLU-PA: “Expert Report Shows Continuing Racial Disparities in Philadelphia Police Department Stops and Frisks”

  • Star-Tribune: “High court has curbed life-without-parole for juveniles, but state case may open new door”

“Notwithstanding these decisions, the Minnesota Supreme Court filed an opinion last week upholding Ali’s sentences of three consecutive life terms. In an opinion authored by the newly elected Justice Natalie Hudson, the Minnesota court decided that Miller and Montgomery apply only to single sentences of life without parole, refusing to extend the principles articulated in Miller and Montgomery to consecutive sentences that have the same effect.”

  • Wired: “Zuckerberg-Backed Data Trove Exposes the Injustice of Criminal Justice”

“Measures for Justice launches today with deep data dives on more than 300 county court systems in Washington, Utah, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Florida, with plans to expand to 20 states by 2020. It pulls together the data that has traditionally remained hidden in ancient databases and endless Excel spreadsheets. Even with just six states included, the comprehensiveness of the platform surpasses anything similar that currently exists. Measures for Justice compiles granular data for 32 different metrics that indicate how equitable a given county’s justice system might be. The portal shows, for instance, how many people within a county plead guilty without a lawyer present, how many non-violent misdemeanor offenders the courts sentence to jail time, and how many people are in jail because they failed to pay bail of less than $500. It offers insight into re-conviction rates and never-prosecuted cases. Users can compare counties or filter information based on how certain measures impact people of different races or income levels. And the site organizes all of it into easily digestible data visualizations.”

THE APPEAL — The Appeal is a weekly newsletter helping to keep you informed about criminal justice news in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and beyond. If you’d like to receive this weekly newsletter, you can subscribe here.

JOIN— The ACLU of Pennsylvania’s mailing list to stay up to date with our work and events happening in your area.

DONATE — The ACLU is comprised of the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU Foundation. The ACLU Foundation is the arm of the ACLU that conducts our litigation and education efforts. Gifts to the ACLU Foundation are tax-deductible to the donor to the extent permissible by law. Learn more about supporting the work of the ACLU of Pennsylvania here.

When police arrest children

By Harold Jordan, Senior Policy Advocate, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Photo from Steven Lane of The Associated Press.

One of the issues that the ACLU has been working on diligently, for years, has been student and youth rights. This week, NBC News aired a series of reports on police in schools.

As a part of the reporting project, many local affiliates are running companion investigatory pieces. Here in Philadelphia, NBC 10 aired a two-segment series on school discipline beginning last night with “Policing Our Schools: Uneven Rates of Discipline in our Region.” It includes an interview with yours truly. The second segment is called “Changing the Narrative on School Discipline.”

The lead-off segment for the national report ran on Sunday, on NBC News with Lester Holt. A longer piece ran on the Today show. The stories feature an ACLU of Missouri client, a 7-year old kid who was handcuffed.

Here is a quick guide to some of the other reports that have aired so far.

  • From NBC News: “Kids in Cuffs: Why Handcuff a Student With a Disability”
  • From NBC Boston: “Off-the-Books Suspensions May Enable Some Schools to Skirt State Law.”
  • From NBC NYC: “Policing the Schools: Minority Students More Likely to Be Suspended or Arrested.”
  • From NBC Bay Area, a six-part series on police in schools: “Arrested at School”

IN OTHER NEWS

(Criminal justice news that could use a second look.)

Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration enforcement ramps up 287(g), a program that allows local law enforcement to serve as federal immigration agents. Photo from The Atlantic.

  • From The Atlantic: “Donald Trump’s Plan to Outsource Immigration Enforcement to Local Cops”

“Thirty-eight law enforcement agencies are currently collaborating with ICE, according to the government’s latest figures. But a report released by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center in December found that the overwhelming majority of the 2,556 counties surveyed didn’t need formal programs: They were already offering assistance to ICE. An early example is the Milwaukee Sheriff’s Department, led by Trump surrogate David Clarke, which teamed up with ICE for a 2-day raid in Wisconsin that ended on the same day that the president signed his executive order enlisting help from local law enforcement. The sheriff’s department has not formally entered agreements to join the 287(g) program. Still, local law enforcement played an active role in arresting 16 undocumented immigrants, all of whom authorities said had previous criminal convictions ranging from assault to drug possession.”

“Even FBI Director James Comey recognized that a lack of data is driving police and citizens further apart. It seems like an issue that should have been addressed ages ago. In fact, it was. In 2000, Congress passed the Death in Custody Reporting Act (DCRA), which required police departments to track and report to the U.S. Attorney General the number of civilians who died in police custody or during arrest. Garnering bipartisan support, the law was heralded as a major step forward in the measurement and improvement of police use of force. The result? It took 15 years for the federal government to issue any kind of report on the DCRA’s data. When it did, it showed poor data coverage and quality. Fewer than half of ‘arrest related deaths’ were recorded, and there were major quality issues due to ‘lack of standardized modes for data collection, definitions, scope, participation, and the availability of resources.’”

  • From The Urban Institute: “How Do People in High-Crime, Low-Income Communities View the Police?”

“Residents of these high-crime, heavily disadvantaged communities witness and experience intensive police presence, high rates of incarceration and community supervision, and concentrated violence and question the intent, effectiveness, and equity of the criminal justice system. Indeed, police may carry out aggressive strategies that target quality-of-life infractions and drug-, gun-, and gang-related violence in ways that undermine public confidence. Perhaps not surprisingly, areas with high levels of mistrust tend to be those that are heavily policed, where police use tactics such as pretextual stops that damage their relationship with the people they are charged to protect. The results can be far-reaching: a distrust of the criminal justice system, an unwillingness to cooperate with the police, and a cynical view of the law that can perpetuate crime and victimization.”

THE APPEAL — The Appeal is a weekly newsletter helping to keep you informed about criminal justice news in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and beyond. If you’d like to receive this weekly newsletter, you can subscribe here.

JOIN— The ACLU of Pennsylvania’s mailing list to stay up to date with our work and events happening in your area.

DONATE — The ACLU is comprised of the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU Foundation. The ACLU Foundation is the arm of the ACLU that conducts our litigation and education efforts. Gifts to the ACLU Foundation are tax-deductible to the donor to the extent permissible by law. Learn more about supporting the work of the ACLU of Pennsylvania here.

Pennsylvania Commission Releases Informative Study of School Discipline

By Harold Jordan, Senior Policy Advocate, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has a problem.

According to a recently released report initiated by the state House, “The Commonwealth’s rates of expulsion and out-of-school suspension are higher than the national average. Further, studies have shown that excessively punitive discipline for misbehavior can result in long-term consequences for the children involved, especially the youngest ones… Policies relating to expulsion and out-of-school suspension are those in need of the most scrutiny.”

On October 28, Pennsylvania’s Joint State Government Commission, the research service for the state legislature, released Discipline Policies in Pennsylvania’s Public Schools. The study, a year in the making, was developed at the request of the PA House (House Resolution 540).

The Commission was tasked with doing a comprehensive study of school discipline policies, state laws and regulations and memoranda of understanding between law enforcement and school districts. A focus was to be on the effects of discipline on students with disabilities and those under 12 years of age. Finally, it was asked to make recommendations for policy and legislative reform.

Overall, the report is thoughtful and informed. It nicely complements the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s statewide report, Beyond Zero Tolerance: Discipline and Policing in Pennsylvania Schools.

The report states that PA ranks 20th and 13th in the nation in the percentage of students that are respectively suspended and expelled.

While not a full blueprint for reform, the report offers many important policy recommendations. In my view, the most important ones are these:

  • Minimize the use of exclusionary discipline and law enforcement intervention and move toward a system of evidence- or research-based alternatives.
  • Lower Pennsylvania’s expulsion and out-of-school suspension rates and clarify that expulsion and out-of-school suspension are reserved for only the most serious of offenses.
  • Restrict out-of-school suspensions or expulsions of children under the age of 10 to those circumstances when the discipline is based on conduct that is of a violent or sexual nature that endangers others, and provide services to return the child to the classroom as soon as possible.
  • Change the language of the MOU school districts are required to have with law enforcement to eliminate mention of offenses where notification is discretionary. I’ve long argued that that the current language encourages districts to report incidents they are not legally required to report. The Commission uses a different argument to reach the same conclusion.
  • Use pull-out discipline programs (known as “alternative education for disruptive youth”) sparingly and only for the most disruptive students. Remove from the definition of disruptive “disregard for school authority, including persistent violation of school policy,” as too vague and subjective.
  • Change Act 26 (PA’s zero tolerance law) so that it is much narrower, modeling the federal Gun-Free Schools Act.
  • Adjust the funding formula for state school safety grants, so that a smaller percentage goes to funding School Resource Officers vs. other programs, including those that reduce the use of exclusionary discipline.

The report falls short, though, in how it tackles the epidemic of student arrests and racial disproportionality in discipline. The report fails to mention that PA ranked first in the nation in the rates of student arrest — the ultimate form of exclusion — during the same period in which it ranked well above average in other forms of exclusionary discipline. Also, while it acknowledges racial disproportionality in discipline rates and arrests, it does little to address its possible causes and remedies.

A final irony in the report is that it defines zero tolerance so narrowly that it struggles to explain why suspension and expulsion rates are unacceptably high. The report is correct in identifying as a problem the fact that some districts have added non-firearms infractions to the list of zero tolerance offenses for which there is mandatory exclusion. But this is only one piece of the explanation for the high rates of exclusionary discipline.

“Zero tolerance” has come to refer to the phenomenon of using exclusionary discipline for alleged infractions that aren’t at the level of serious safety concerns involving weapons or significant injury. This expanded meaning is widely accepted, including by groups like The Council of State Governments. With the adoption of zero tolerance approaches came a dramatic rise in the use of out-of-school suspensions for dress code violations, lateness, and a whole host of infractions not involving weapons and not resulting in significant injury.

The lesson is this: If you don’t correctly identify the policies that contribute to these rates, you cannot make the reforms that would be needed to bring them down. This larger “culture of zero tolerance” accounts for much of the racial disparity and for the overall high suspension rates in many districts. Perhaps it is time we broaden the definition of “zero tolerance.”

On a constructive note, the Commission recommends that the Pennsylvania Department of Education increases its monitoring of discipline data and, where problems are identified, be empowered to require districts in question to establish Disciplinary Policy Review Committees. These committees would have 50% their membership be “parents and advocates who are representative of the population subject to disciplinary exclusions and law enforcement referrals.”

The Commission is to be commended for producing an informative report and accompanying draft legislation. Hopefully, lawmakers and school decision makers will engage the serious issues it raises.

Get the full report and executive summary

Originally posted at EndZeroTolerance.org

New Website Explores the School-to-Prison Pipeline and How to End It

By Harold Jordan, Senior Policy Advocate, ACLU of Pennsylvania

endzerotolerance.org is a new website from the ACLU of Pennsylvania

Every day, we hear from advocates, reporters, educators, and students asking questions about how to find the best resources on some aspect of school discipline and policing. Whether from an advocate preparing testimony for a school board meeting or a reporter digging into a story when an incident occurs, folks want to know how to get accurate and up-to-date information and analysis.

Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania is launching a comprehensive national website on the school-to-prison pipeline, which can be found at both www.s2pp.org and www.endzerotolerance.org.

In crafting the site, we reviewed countless requests for information and documents that have come in, especially since the publication of our report on school discipline and policing in Pennsylvania, Beyond Zero Tolerance.

This site is the place to go to get up-to-date resources and commentary on how to keep young people in school and out of the justice system. It is loaded with presentations and sample materials, and to links to videos, podcasts, policy statements, research reports, and media stories. In a few cases, we have taken official data and produced simplified spreadsheets illustrating a trend.

While reforms have been implemented in a growing number of communities, the culture spawned by “zero tolerance” remains very much alive. Today, “zero tolerance” refers to the array of policies and practices that mandate or facilitate the removal of students from school under a broad range of circumstances, not principally (or just) in response to weapons violations. Therefore, our site is named “End Zero Tolerance.”

Additional features include:

  • Q and A on school discipline and policing
  • Using Data — a guide to how to obtain and use data, plus links to summaries of recent trends
  • Policing in Schools — news and analysis plus information about students arrests and examples of policy reforms
  • Special sections for educators and for advocates on how to implement reforms
  • What’s New –a blog about recent developments and new resources

Whether you want to research the issues, or to learn about successful campaigns and local work to improve school communities, this site is a great place to start.

Rethinking School Discipline

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On Wednesday, July 22, the White House hosted Rethink School Discipline, a national convening and conversation on improving school discipline policies and practices. At the meeting, participants discussed new tools and resources to be released by the Supportive School Discipline Initiative, an interagency initiative launched by the Administration in 2011, along with data and research that underscores the need for further action. School leaders across the country came together to share best practices used to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline by fostering safe, supportive, and productive learning environments that keep kids in school and out of the juvenile justice system.

Harold Jordan, ACLU of Pennsylvania’s Senior Policy Advocate, participated in the summit representing the Dignity in Schools Campaign. He also severed on the planning committee for the event.

Also participating were community stakeholders, including parents, advocates, national professional associations and teachers’ unions, and advocates of discipline reform. In all, about 200 educators were in attendance, including 3-person teams from 43 school districts across the country.

Learn more about the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s school discipline work!

Harold Jordan on WHYY’s Radio Times

ACLU of Pennsylvania Community Organizer Harold Jordan stopped by WHYY’s Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane to discuss “racial disparities in school discipline.”

Check out the full interview here:

From WHYY:

New information released by the Department of Education shed more light on a disturbing difference when it comes to school discipline — minority students are suspended at a much higher rate than white students. The same applies to expulsions and harsher punishments and the problem is particularly acute in Pennsylvania. With more research to show that zero tolerance policies are ineffective, some educators are rethinking the whys and hows of school discipline. In this hour of Radio Times we’ll talk about the issues around suspensions, expulsions and even arrests, particularly when it comes to minority students. Our guests are HAROLD JORDAN of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, DEBORAH KLEHR of the Education Law Center, and University of Pennsylvania education professor MATTHEW STEINBERG. – See more at: http://whyy.org/cms/radiotimes/2014/03/31/racial-disparities-in-school-discipline/#sthash.4lewHTdD.dpuf